'Gittel's Journey'

Lesléa Newman’s “Gittel’s Journey” (Abrams, ages 4 to 8) — based on the true stories of her grandmother and a family friend — is a gentle, moving look at a child’s experience of leaving home forever. The story centers on 9-year-old Gittel, who wishes she could bring a neighbor’s goat, Frieda, with her as she and her mother prepare to leave their home in Europe for the voyage to America. By the time the long journey by steamship begins, however, Gittel has very few possessions. There is a rag doll, a gift from her friend and neighbor. There are her mother’s Shabbat candlesticks and the note with her uncle’s address that her mother — denied boarding because of an eye infection — presses into Gittel’s hands. “Home is not safe for us,” her mother tells the little girl, “You are going to America to have a better life.” Gittel looks a bit like Little Red Riding Hood, with her long skirt and apron over her boots, and a red scarf over her hair. She carries her mother’s note carefully, but the ocean spray has smeared the ink by the time the ship is within sight of the Statue of Liberty; it takes the kindness and ingenuity of the interpreter at Ellis Island to unite the child with her family. Amy June Bates’s illustrations, framed by a woodblock design, offer a warm and sweet picture of a small girl in a very big world.

Kathie Meizner

'Soaring Earth'

Margarita Engle’s first memoir in verse, “Enchanted Air” (2015), delved into her divided childhood: Engle grew up in Los Angeles but lived for her trips to Cuba, where she visited with her mother’s family. In her new and equally poignant memoir, “Soaring Earth” (Atheneum, ages 12 and older), Engle recalls other divisions, many of them forged in the tumult of the late 1960s and early ’70s. Engle remembers well what it was like to be young, boy-crazy, a bookworm, a peacenik, an outsider and a dropout who can’t face her family. The current Young People’s Poet Laureate, Engle doesn’t romanticize her own missteps, the difficult people she encountered or the confusion she felt. She remembers watching astronauts exploring “a lunar/ landscape/ that looks/ quite a bit less desolate/ than news photos of war zones/ down here on this wildly spinning,/ orbiting, soaring, impossible-to-understand/ earth.” Engle eventually moves back home, attends community college and pursues science, poetry and protest simultaneously. Her well-wrought, uncluttered poems not only delineate the route she took but also point the way to the many paths young people should feel free to explore.

Abby McGanney Nolan

'Ink Knows No Borders'

“My young life is coming undone/on the road behind me,” writes Lena Khalaf Tuffaha in “Immigrant,” one of 64 contemporary poems on the immigrant and refugee experience in “Ink Knows No Borders” (Triangle Square, ages 12 and older). Though aimed at teens, this vivid, vital collection easily crosses what are essentially marketing-imposed boundaries and should find a ready audience with adults as well. Editors Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond range widely, including work by Martín Espada, winner of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and Elizabeth Acevedo, whose novel in verse, “The Poet X,” won recent Printz and National Book Awards. With bravura and hard-won insight, these poems explore identity, survival and home from first- and second-generation perspectives, offering a multiplicity of impressions and memories. In “The Border: A Double Sonnet,” Alberto Ríos describes that titular place as “a line that birds cannot see” and “a belt that is too tight.” Paul Tran speaks of his family’s feeling of dislocation, the “grief of geography,” as they flee the Mekong Delta for the United States, and Franny Choi wearies of hearing her name “butchered by hammerhead tongues.” Samira Ahmed gives voice to the struggle and skill it takes to assert one’s place: “you plant yourself./Like a flag.” And Safia Elhillo ends this essential anthology by celebrating “the world we make with our living” — a call that can resonate with all readers.

Mary Quattlebaum


An earlier version of this story misspelled Lesléa Newman’s first name. This version has been updated.

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